Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 5 - Texas, Bottomless Lakes, Roswell

Back to Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 4

May 5
The plan for Friday morning was to drive out of Oklahoma, across Texas, and just into New Mexico. The goal for the day was to find camping somewhere near the Carlsbad Caverns. And I managed to convince Doug to let me drive for a little while! Doug likes to drive and it's not my favorite thing. I like to navigate and organize stuff, and that's not Doug's favorite thing. But still, I wanted to take some of the long task of driving for the day. And we learned that passenger Doug really doesn't like being at the beck and call of the driver. Oddly, my driving stint didn't last very long.

Lesson for the day, not all towns in Texas have a gas station. Better yet, it can often be a hundred miles between gas stations, at least on the road we were on. Earlier in the week, we had decided to pick up a 5 gallon gas container. That morning, I had argued that it was silly to have it empty in the back of the truck, so we filled it up. And we ended up needing it, about thirty miles before the next possible gas station in the middle of the day. I'm considering picking up a second spare container.

According to the our silly rules, we needed to find an EPIC stop in Texas, so we could qualify for our Texas sticker (see the details on Part 3). We opted to stop on the far side of Lubbock, TX to see the 13 ton granite carved John Wayne head. It was at a small university, inside the library. We got there, relived that the library was still supposed to be open, but sadly, with school out (for the summer?), they had closed early. We peered longingly through the windows, and could see the large stoney lump, but that was about it.

I had also decided that we needed to stop for a nice steak dinner while we were in Texas, so we did. Yum. While we waited for our meals, and gauged the 2+ hour drive still left to go, we decided to find an easy place nearby to stop for the night. We ended up at a free overnight RV stop next to the Coleman Park in Brownfield, TX. The town's Chamber of Commerce has a tiny little RV stop, with electricity, water, and a dump station. For free. It was not really picturesque, but free and easy are had to argue with.

May 6
In the morning, we pulled out early, and two hours later, we were at Bottomless Lakes State Park, near Roswell, NM. Along the road we saw lots of hawks and lots of mule deer. We pulled into the campground, did a quick set up, and headed out for our first hike in the desert.

Lizards galore, prickly pear cactus in bloom, and lots of dry, hot wind. Then we headed in to Roswell for lunch and to enjoy the alien craziness. The International UFO museum was pretty much as advertised. Lots of aliens, lots of theories, lots of blurry photos of flying saucers. We also did a tour of the town's roadside alien attractions, although we never managed to find the "stealthy home-built flying saucer on wheels".

Back at camp, Doug took a bracing dip in one of the "bottomless" lakes. It was chillingly cold and minnows impolitely nibbled at his toes.

And I sat in the shade, and typed up these blogs! Because this state park has wi-fi!

And soon I will sleep in my hammock, in the balmy 59 degree desert night.

Up next, Part 6.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 4 - Chickasaw

Back to Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 3

May 2
Eager to be on the road to Chickasaw National Recreational Area in Oklahoma, we got going early Tuesday morning. And as we sped along the interstate toward the western boundary of Arkansas, we noticed that the transmission on the truck was running REALLY hot. We pulled over, let it cool down and I checked to make sure there was transmission fluid. There was. Since that's the extent of my troubleshooting knowledge for transmissions, we took the next exit off the interstate, We found a small garage in Altus, AR. The gruff old mechanic, who made no secret of the fact that he thought we were idiots, said that dire things were happening with our transmission, and then he sent us to the next big town with a recommendation to go see Danny at Turner Transmissions.

We did visit Danny of Turner Transmissions. And despite the pain of having to pay for service on the truck, it was a pretty good experience. First of all, Danny was fantastic. He bumped us ahead of several other vehicles, didn't treat us like idiots, immediately did a diagnostic, and a test drive up a hill with the trailer attached to see what was up with the truck. Good news and not-so-bad news: we hadn't fried the transmission (Yay!), it was running hot, but with the addition of a transmission cooling fan, we should be good for the rest of this ridiculous trip. Done! And with less of an astronomical price tag than we expected. And they didn't even need us to unhitch the camper.

Doug and I toured the (not-so-picturesque) town of Van Buren, AK for a few hours, had some lunch, hung out in the local library, then a book store, and we got the call that the truck was ready to go. By 3:30, we were back on the road. We made a quick detour to the Harbor Freight store to replace the sway control bar that we lost back in Missouri, and then we were on our way to Chickasaw NRA, only 6 hours later than expected. We even managed to arrive with a little light left in the sky, at dusk.

May 3
Chickasaw NRA is about 90 miles south of Oklahoma City, and is absolutely gorgeous. We managed to pick what might be the best spot in the the whole campground. Right alongside the Lake of the Arbuckles--a name that just tickles me. With the lake just down the slope of our site, Doug had his inflatable fish boat rigged up before I was even awake that morning. He was soon out fishing, and was pleased to catch some nice bass. I kicked back to spend a relaxing morning reading. It was lovely.

Chicakasaw NRA has a bunch of nice hiking trails and also has a small bison herd. After lunch, despite what looked like a storm threatening, we tried out one of the trails. A good 3 mile hike through grasslands and mesic forest.

Doug is terrified of the coming storm. A storm that never came.
During this hike, we heard some rustling in the underbrush, coming towards us, despite the fact that we weren't being particularly quiet. Just as I was about to be really concerned that a raccoon was acting oddly during daylight hours, we finally saw that we were about to be run down by a pair of armadillos. It was awesome.

Hike finished, we headed into Sulphur, OK for a supply run. On the way into town, we passed the Bison Lookout point, and were astounded to actually see bison there--for the second time actually, since we'd seen them the evening before as we rushed to the campground to set up with the waning light. We promised ourselves that we'd stop on the way back in from town to visit with the bison. One Walmart run finished, several important forgotten items from home purchased, plus a giant axe (so Doug could chop up some big logs), we pulled in to the bison view area. Of course, they weren't there. They are ninjas of the grasslands.

While I cooked dinner, Doug proved the worth of his giant axe. The camp host had been by earlier, and told us that the huge logs Doug had found were against the rules to burn, since they were too long to fit in the fire pit ring. He valiantly (and sweatily) chopped several of them down to size. And soon after starting the fire, he fell asleep. And since the weather was clear, and beautiful, I decided to set up my hammock, and sleep under the stars and trees. And then I felt the chilly 42 degree weather, fought my way out of the hammock, found some clothespins and a lightweight sleeping bag, and fashioned myself an underquilt. Then I slept the night away nearly toasty. It was lovely.

The next day dawned bright and shiny. Doug fished and I read. I see a pattern forming here! Then we headed back in to Sulphur to check out the sights. We tried to stop to see the bison. They were still hiding, of course. Then we had a most important task, we stopped at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Visitor Center for a stamp in our National Park Passports. Woohoo!

Then we headed to the Chickasaw Cultural Center. This amazing place is chock full of interesting information about the Chickasaw Nation--history, culture, dance, and almost all of it free! We were just in time for a stomp dance demonstration (which we got to join in), then we spent several hours wandering the traditional village and exhibition halls. And feeding the fish, turtles, and giant catfish in the pond.

On the way back to the campground, we decided to try out another of the trails. We opted for the 2 mile loop trail around the bison pasture. Surely they couldn't hide from us as we circled the entire pasture? They did. We also took a little spur off of our trail to hike another .2 mile stretch up to the Bromide Overlook. How bad could 0.2 miles be?

"How is it possible that we've only gone 0.1??!?", as I pant up the hill.

But the uphill was worth it.

Since we were on our way to the Bromide Overlook, Doug decided to spout bromides (otherwise known as platitudes) the rest of the way up and down the hill. I may have threatened to knock him down the hill. The view was lovely, and we hiked back down, got a little lost, found our way again, and headed back towards camp. And the bison were still hiding.

Back at camp, we packed up to leave the next morning, had a campfire and went to bed. Chickasaw is a wonderful place, and somewhere we'd like to spend some more time.

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 3 - Ozark National Forest

Back to Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 2

May 1
What we have learned, is that this early in the season, at least in the midwest, campgrounds empty out during the weekdays. Yay!

Our first morning in the Ozark National Forest, I got to nest for a while in the camper, putting things in their proper spaces and organizing the chaos in the truck. About a month before this trip, I'd been pretty diligent about preparations, getting modifications finished in the HodgePod, organizing a variety of things for our extended departure. But all my careful timelines went awry, as my father, Stanley, passed away on the second Friday of April. He had been in hospice since the beginning of the year, and he ended his twenty year struggle with Parkinson's Disease on Good Friday. The next week was spent with my mom, Ann, and the rest of my family, preparing for Dad's funeral. Doug and I returned home five days before our departure for this trip. We managed to get things well enough organized to leave when we planned to, but things were more chaotic than I would have hoped.

But back to the Ozarks. Doug and I, with no park maps or cell service, took our chances with Forest Service roads to get some hiking in. The roads dead ended pretty quickly and hiking the powerline right-of-way, while pretty, wasn't the most fun ever. Regardless, it was a lovely forest and got our heart rates up. As we passed by the Camp Host site (we'd tried to locate them the day before, at that morning to investigate a fishing license for Doug), we noticed that they were still not at home. Odd. We never did see them in 2.5 days.

As the afternoon wore on, we had an all important ceremony at our campsite. We finally installed our "states visited" decal! This was a Christmas gift from Doug's lovely sister, Lynn Marie. We also have plans to add the Canada province stickers as well!

Doug and I have had some serious conversations as to what qualifies a state to be "stickered". While we are still arguing, here are the basic guidelines:
  1. With exception of Hawaii, the HodgePod must be the p.rime camping vehicle. (It's possible that Doug is slightly envious of my 49 states already visited.)
  2. Sleeping overnight in a state or province qualifies for a sticker
  3. If just driving though the state (and not spending the night), so epic stop must be made to qualify for a sticker. For instance, the REALLY BIG THINGS in Casey, IL qualify.
  4. More ridiculous options will surely be added.
I staged a few photos for the previous posts, but this is where we were at the start of our trip. Our inaugural trip with the HodgePod was the autumn 2014, in Indiana. 2015 had Wisconsin, Ontario, and Kentucky.

Day one of this trip got Illinois and Missouri and Arkansas was marked off the list on May 1.

We managed a second hike before dinner, through the campground, and located a lovely trail that led us along Big Piney Creek and to a gorgeous waterfall. It was a fine way to bid farewell to the Ozarks.

As we hiked back to our campsite, we found the the gauge on Big Piney Creek. 

My iPhone couldn't quite focus on the numbers, but we could see that the water was just about at 6. That's one foot over the DANGEROUS level.

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 4 is next!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 2 - Floods

Back to Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 1

April 30
Day 2 arrived with more rain. We got moving early and since we hadn't unhooked the HodgePod, we got quickly on the road. Little did we know then, but the previous night, we had detached the sway control bar but had forgotten to stow it. The sway bar now lives somewhere on the side of the road in Mark Twain National Forest. Sigh.

Since we'd set up camp late and in the pouring rain, we needed to hunt down the Camp Host to pay for the previous night. We found her still in her camper. And due to the yappy dogs that lived with her (who wanted to eat my face off), and the pouring rain (she didn't want me dripping gallons of water inside while the yappy dogs ate my face off), she told us not to bother paying for the night. Woohoo!

As we set off west, we were more and more concerned about our route south and west. The Scenic Riverway route was a flooded disaster.

When we pulled into the town of Ellington, MO to fuel up the truck, we had to pull to a quick stop.

This poor town. Luckily we were able to turn ourselves around and get ourselves back out to higher ground. When we found a gas station that wasn't underwater, we had a chat with a nice state trooper. "Were you folks looking for the scenic route?" After being assured that we were looking for passable roads, he gave us some advice on good roads. Despite Google Maps repeatedly trying to convince us to drive on flooded roads, we were on our way, on less scary flooded roads. Mostly.

Since rain and wind were still an issue, we made a stop to pick up supplies to fix the leaky windows in the HodgePod. Trash bags and duct tape made a shield to give the new sealant time to set up on the leaky windows gaskets. We found a local restaurant across the parking lot and I was happy to waste some time eating a Garlic Butter Burger. Yum.

With the windows freshly sealed, the rain, of course, stopped. We got back in the road and had fairly clear sailing, except for one detour on a major highway near Branson, MO. Several nights later during our travels, we heard that lots of roads we had used were closed due to flooding, so we had been lucky in our timing.

Doug was lured again by roadside signs, and we stopped for a quick hike at Table Rock State Park. It was a very flooded state park. Please note, the picnic table and BBQ under the water.

And then we made it to the Ozark-St Francis National Forest, Long Pool campground in Arkansas. And it was dry. And warm. And we were camped just next to (but high above) Big Piney Creek.

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 1

On a very rainy morning, on Saturday, April 28th 2017, Doug and I started our two month Ridiculous Road Trip across the western US. These blog posts are intended as my travel journal and a way to remember our silly adventures. Feel free to read along, if you choose. As most of these posts are being typed into my phone as we bump along the road, it's unlikely I had time to proof-read very well, so please excuse any errors.

**Update: If you want to just jump to the summary of our trip, feel free! There's a link to a giant album of the photos (without commentary) in that post.**

Our (foolishly optimistic) route is here. We are camping with our adorable 18-foot travel trailer, a Forest River rPod 177, named HodgePod.
We headed southwest with a plan of spending the night in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Overcast and rainy, the rain paused for a bit as Doug was lured off of our planned route by a sign for the "World's Largest Wind Chimes" in Casey, IL. And it was a fabulous stop! Many really big things in a small town!!

This sign only lists the "world's biggest", but there's at least a dozen more just crazy big things.

Doug's favorite part of the really big things in Casey was mailing postcards from inside the top of the giant mailbox. And that the mailbox flag raises as you drop in each piece of mail.

Pleased with our first unscheduled stop, we left Casey, IL and drove through several more hours of awful driving rain.

As we are driving, we are listening to audio books. We started the trip off with Neil Gaiman's American Gods. There has been some fun (and vaguely creepy) parallels between the story and our trip so far--several cities and "the storm is coming" as we drove through this awful rain.

We didn't quite get to the campground where we planned to stay that night. The hard rain, wind, and lots of standing water on the road convinced us to stop a bit earlier at the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. This was just going to be a quick overnight, since the forecast continued to be awful, and we wanted to get down to the Ozarks. We decided to not unhook the trailer, just removed the sway bar to back into our site, so we could just get a quick start the next day.

As we got into the camper that night, we discovered that the driving rain had found some gaps in the seals on the windows. Sigh. After mopping up, bedtime came early, we were out by 9 pm.

The next chapter of our adventure is Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 2.